I just heard the news that Neil Armstrong has died at the age of 82 because of complications related to heart surgery.
Neil Armstrong was not just an astronaut, not just a space explorer. He was the real thing. The first Space Age hero who was American through and through, but loved and admired by the world.
His walk on the moon on 20 July 1969 will live forever in the annals of human history...and so will Neil Armstrong, right alongside Christopher Columbus and Charles Lindbergh.
I'm reprinting my blog of July 12, 2011, which touched on the end of the manned moon program for the United States. If one man symbolized that program, it was Armstrong.
Rest in Peace.
THURSDAY, JULY 21, 2011
To Touch the Face of God
On 25 May 1961, President John F. Kennedy made a bold announcement before Congress in which he committed “…this nation..to achieving the goal before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon….”
Alan Shepard made the first manned sub-orbital flight in the Mercury Freedom 7, on 5 May 1961. He answered when asked what he was thinking about just before lift-off, “that every part of this ship was built by the lowest bidder.” Alan Shepard also pirated a golf ball and club onto a later moon flight and hit the first golf shot in space.
Apollo XI took American astronauts to the moon, landing 20 July 1969. Neil Armstrong said, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed." These first men on the moon were proud to plant the Stars and Stripes on its surface, something most who watched the astonishing feat of the descent and moonwalk will never forget.
Then came Apollo XIII’s famous “Houston, we have a problem” that led to the live-TV solutions that rescued John Swigert, Jr., James Lovell and Fred Haise Jr., when their April 1970 moon flight developed technical problems that threatened their ability to re-enter the Earth’s orbit. They came home safely and it had become clear that manned space flight was dangerous, but manageable for the experts on the ground and in the ships.
But, the American space program has come to an end for the time being. NASA’s Atlantis made its landing at Kennedy Space Center just before 6 a.m. local time, today, 21 July 2011, marking the end of a 30-year space shuttle program, a program that has become a symbol for American space exploration leadership.
The next phase of America’s space program is said to be to land on an asteroid and on Mars. A precursor of these goals was the Messenger Probe around Mercury, with the announcement of its handlers, “We have orbit” on March 17, 2011.
America’s love affair with space is not over, but President Kennedy’s call was only the first of many. We have put men on the moon, walked in space, built the space station and launched the Hubbell telescope that is bringing back to Earth startling photos of outer space.
We also lost the valiant crew of Space Shuttle Columbia and her crew of 7 during her re-entry on 1 February 2003. And the crew of Space Shuttle Challenger was lost during lift-off. It was on 28 January 1986. That same day, President Reagan gave one of his most memorable speeches. It ended with the lines that will live in the hearts of Americans forever.
"We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them this morning as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God."
Americans cannot help but be sad today. Yet, we know we will be back in space, for as Ronald Reagan would have said, “If not us, who?”